Causes of unemployment:
More than 3 million children – at least one in four – in Britain live in poverty (ie. in families on less than 60 per cent median income after housing costs). This is among the worst records in western Europe. By Chancellor Darling’s own admission, the government is likely to miss its 1999 target to halve child poverty by 2010 to the detriment of 600,000 children.
The chief causes of poverty are unemployment, low wages or inadequate benefits. In recent years, too, huge rises in gas and electricity prices have more than doubled the number of households in ‘fuel poverty’ (ie. spending more than 10 per cent of income on fuel bills) to 4.5 million, as the energy monopolies reap super-profits.
The main impact of poverty is on health, educational achievement and social participation.
Start with simple remedies:
The remedies are straightforward, as the Child Poverty Action Group confirms. Single and women parents need higher benefits, higher wages and better access to employment, training and childcare facilities. Together with pensioners, they would benefit substantially from decent housing, better public services and a move away from means-testing of benefits and pensions.
But with its proposals to increase the retirement age, the New Labour government has swallowed whole the ageist, anti-pensioner agenda – that Britain has too many old people and we cannot afford to pay for their comfort and dignity in retirement. Pensioners are not a drag on the economy. For decades, governments have built up a £51 billion pension surplus in the National Insurance fund by taking workers’ contributions and then paying them low pensions after they retire. That money should be given back to yesterday’s workers, not used to fund armaments and war.
Extending the compulsory working age also denies jobs to young and first-time workers at a time when unemployment has already reached 8 per cent (and 20 per cent among 16-24 year olds).
OUR demands as unemployed must be - we must go further on all the fronts which need to be opened up in a war on poverty, including: ,
* An immediate increase in the national minimum wage to the level of half median male earnings, irrespective of age, rising to two-thirds
* Restoration of the value of unemployment benefits and greater access to benefits for carers, the long-term sick and people with disabilities
* The imposition of pay audits to enforce genuinely equal pay for women
* Abolition of student tuition fees and the phasing in of student grants alongside interest-free loans along the lines being pioneered by the Scottish Parliament and Welsh National Assembly
* Deep cuts in household fuel prices, a reduction in VAT on essential goods and services and the imposition of selective price controls on basic foods
* Provision of a second state pension for all workers, with compulsory employer as well as state contributions
* Public funding for security measures in pensioners’ homes.
Trade union leaders have warned that disastrous unemployment figures make it imperative to resist the Tory policy of immediate spending cuts.
Newly published government figures showed that unemployment had topped the 2.5 million mark and that the number of people classed as economically inactive had reached record levels.
Youth unemployment also increased by 4,000 to 929,000, the highest since last autumn and long-term unemployment, counting those out of work for over a year, increased by 89,000 to 726,000.
Britain's employment rate is now 72 per cent, the worst figure since 1996, following the loss of 59,000 full-time and 30,000 part-time jobs over the December-February period.
Unions were quick to point out that responding to record unemployment rises with cuts in public spending would trigger an immediate recession.
TUC general secretary Brendan Barber warned that "a double-dip recession remains a real threat, particularly if big early spending cuts hit both public-sector jobs and the companies that sell goods and services to the public sector."
Cautioning against the swingeing cuts in the public sector proposed by the Tories in their election campaign, Unison general secretary Dave Prentis stressed: "Public-sector workers need to be working, providing essential services, spending money in shops and businesses, keeping local economies moving."
The unions are convinced that cutting spending now would have a domino effect across the whole economy, adding to mounting levels of unemployment, increasing dole queues, reducing consumer spending power and hitting businesses which survive by providing services to councils.
Scottish TUC general secretary Grahame Smith argued that the way out of the recession was to continue with current stimulus measures.
He said: "Immediate and deep cuts to public spending will tip the economy back over the edge. The new government must resist this economic masochism."
And GMB leader Paul Kenny urged the electorate to resist the "Tory policy of wanting to jump from the frying pan of recession into the fire of slashed public services."